Voyaging Trust Battles for Traditional Canoe Amid High Court Threats


A contentious battle is brewing between the creators and current owners of Tairāwhiti’s waka hourua, a traditional double-hulled voyaging canoe. Accusations have been laid against the sailing vessel’s incumbent trustees, the Tairāwhiti Voyaging Trust (TVT), alleging that they are operating outside of the trust’s deed. The disquiet culminated in threats of legal action in the High Court from those who birthed the initial dream of the waka hourua.

For close to three years, Te Aturangi Nepia-Clamp and Owen Lloyd have yearned to lend their expert services as guardians, or kaitiaki, of the waka they tirelessly worked to secure for their region. The TVT has neither accepted their offer nor responded directly to their allegations, merely stating that they continue to follow clear strategic directions and long-term goals.

Nepia-Clamp and Lloyd founded the Tūranganui a Kiwa Voyaging Trust in 1997 with the primary goal of securing a waka hourua for Tairāwhiti. Their efforts culminated in two significant projects: the successful organization of a millennium waka dawn ceremony in 2000, featuring 22 waka from across Aotearoa and the Pacific, and the securing of a waka hourua for Te Tairāwhiti.

As Nepia-Clamp reflected, the success of the dawn event inspired him to secure a waka hourua for the region. But he realized it was not the right time. So, he devoted more of his time to studying Pacific waka hourua designs before joining the Cook Islands Voyaging Society and living there for a decade.

While residing in Rarotonga, a philanthropist approached Nepia-Clamp to construct seven double-hulled voyaging canoes for a journey across Pacific destinations. Covering over 30,000 nautical miles, this grand expedition promoted sustainable sea transportation. On completion, each of the waka was distributed to participants from the Pacific Island and Aotearoa.

In 2011, Nepia-Clamp returned to Gisborne, reestablished the Tūranganui A Kiwa Voyaging Trust renamed as Tairāwhiti Voyaging Trust (TVT), and secured a waka hourua for the Tairāwhiti region. TVT secured funding to build and offer the Tairāwhiti Waka as an authentic Māori project for all people in the region.

However, multiple disagreements arose over the trust’s running, resulting in Nepia-Clamp and Lloyd exiting the TVT in 2020. Both men felt that by overlooking qualified Māori skippers and crews, the TVT created an unsafe, inauthentic cultural environment.

They then teamed up with a Māori voluntary crew and formed their own trust, the Waka Voyaging Trust (WVT). Even so, their repeated offers of voluntary service to the TVT and attempts to share the waka have remained unremarked.

The WVT now faces the harsh reality of not having a waka hourua for their regular meetings at Ralph Walker’s house. They feel ignored and disappointed, as they see a cultural heritage piece they helped create locked away from them. The fact that they are still perceived by the public as part of the Tairāwhiti Waka makes it even harder for them to explain why they are barred from getting on it.

Frustrated with the situation, the WVT has connected with an Auckland-based law firm to investigate the TVT’s operations. Early indications suggest discrepancies in the TVT’s operation that could potentially merit a High Court case. However, the WVT reiterates that rather than waging a legal battle, they wish to resolve the issue through mediation and in a culturally appropriate manner.

Reacting to the controversy, TVT asserts they have been loyal to their core priorities. They continue to achieve the goals predetermined by stakeholders and funders alike. Ambitious partnerships and independent projects prove their commitment to bringing a solid foundation for Tairāwhiti Waka and creating a supportive network all over Aotearoa.


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